Highway Robbery: Controversial Calls Cost Bucs Against Fins

JC De La TorreAnalyst IIINovember 16, 2009

Updated with a picture from the now infamous "Clayton Play". You make the call.

Fans always believe the referees are out to get their team. My own mother believes there is an international conspiracy of referees against the Buccaneers.

Most of the time I write it off as foolish homerism. Then when you see a game like today, when the calls were lopsidedly in favor of the home team, you have to pause.

Calls that were so confounding, confusing, and down right wrong, you just have to wonder if NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will launch an investigation to see if Referee Tony Corrente or members of his crew had money on Miami's 25-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Of course, Corrente and his crew didn't allow the Dolphins to run for 199 yards on the ground. They didn't let pedestrian Quarterback Chad Henne drive his team 77 yards to the game winning field goal in five plays with only one time out and just 1:18 on the clock.

Corrente didn't fumble four times, including once deep in opposing territory.

That was quarterback Josh Freeman, who struggled in the first half of his second start.

Freeman has shown he's a bit of a slow starter, but the youngster displayed a little Brett Favre in him, too, turning it on in the second half, and leading the Bucs to a 17 point second half rally to take the lead.

Of course, the Bucs wouldn't have to overcome that wide margin had the biggest tragedy of justice not occurred in the final 1:20 of the first half.

Backed up deep in their own territory, Freeman hit wide receiver Michael Clayton for an apparent 10 yard completion and a first down. Clayton got both feet down, an elbow down, and his behind down with the ball in his possession, and under control.

A Dolphins player rolled over the downed Clayton, and batted the ball out of hands, and into the air. It landed in the hands of Jason Taylor who took it to the house for an apparent touchdown.

After initially being called a fumble, the ruling on the field ended up an incomplete pass.

Corrente went to the peep show under the hood and apparently saw something other than the play in question. Corrente came back onto the field and ruled, "The player had possession of the football, then went to the ground, the ball left his hands and as a result was intercepted by a defensive player. By rule, the player is unable to advance the football as a result of a replay, thus it's Miami football at the 15 yard line."

Raheem Morris lost his mind and apparently said something very naughty to one of the officials on the field, garnering a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

It's hard to imagine it was anything worse then the classic Jon Gruden explosion, "Are you out of your f---ing mind? Are you out of your g-d d---n skull?"

What adds to the confusion is earlier in the ballgame, the same exact situation happened with a Miami receiver. Almost immediately, he was ruled down by contact.

Whatever was said, the call was made and Miami cashed it in for a gut wrenching touchdown. It sent the young Bucs reeling. A three-and-out and couple more quick passes set up a chip shot Miami field goal and a three point game was suddenly a 19-6 deficit.

“Because the player in question, the player who was possessing the ball in the air, as he started to come down, was hit." Corrente is quoted by the Pewter Report , "As he is coming down, he is now going to the ground to complete a catch and by rule, if he’s going to the ground to complete a catch, he has to maintain possession of the ball completely through the entire process of hitting the ground and thereafter showing control. As he went to the ground, basically right when he went to the ground, the ball popped out, and went right into the arms of the Miami player. The ball had never touched the ground."

"This loss is solely on me," Morris said. "Getting a personal foul as a head coach is totally unacceptable. I'm taking those points; that's how much we lost by. I should take the blame for that. I used the wrong type of language to the official."

As we mentioned, replays clearly showed Clayton on his back in possession of the football when a Miami defender came in and batted the ball from his hands.

I can guarantee you if this happened during Patriots-Colts instead of 1-7 Bucs at 3-5 Dolphins, it would be story one on SportsCenter.

Tampa Bay was penalized nine times for 77 yards, compared to Miami's 3-for-30.

After Freeman led the Bucs to a 23-22 lead, Kellen Winslow, Jr. mouthed off to the same official that penalized Morris—and garnered yet another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that was enforced on the kick off.

Luckily for Winslow, Connor Barth knuckle-balled the kickoff past kick returner Ted Ginn, Jr. who recovered it at 15 yard line—setting up the Miami last drive from deep in their own territory.

Speaking of Barth, kudos to the youngster, becoming the first kicker in Bucs history to kick three 50-plus yard kicks in the same game.

The Bucs defense couldn't get to Chad Henne and he found gaping holes in the Bucs prevent defense.

Of course, Corrente's crew had to make sure they helped the youngster out, calling a pass interference on a Buccaneer defender at midfield when the call should have been at the very least, defensive holding and only a five yard foul.

One last burst by Ricky Williams put the Dolphins in point blank range for an easy Dan Carpenter field goal.

While the Bucs were certainly disheartened by the loss, for the second straight game, their young quarterback put them in position to walk out with a victory.

That, plus another big fourth quarter turnover allowed the Bucs to climb back into it.

You can see as the coaches allow Freeman to be Freeman, they gain more confidence in the kid's ability to move the team. The team itself continues to believe in their young quarterback and play hard.

"Man, with number five (Freeman) you know you have a chance," Carnell "Cadillac" Williams said after the game.

The Bucs certainly made their share of mistakes to lose this game. It isn't all on the officiating. Still, it's tough for a young football team to overcome a call of that magnitude that goes against them.

The amazing thing is behind the arm of Freeman, the Bucs managed to claw their way back into the game and give themselves a chance to win.

For a 1-8 football, that says a lot. It's also a good learning experience for the young Tampa Bay players. If something goes against you like that, keep your cool. The game's not over. It might be good for their head coach to lead by that example.

Notice to the rest of the NFL, the Bucs are no longer an easy out, even if you have the Zebras in your pocket.


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